Wine Additives and Legit American Chemicals

In 1985, a scandal that emerged in Germany shocked the wine world. The German authorities responsible for monitoring wine quality reported traces of diethylene glycol (a commercial solvent) in many varieties of low-end wines. A sweet taste characterizes this compound (diethylene glycol), and it is typically a toxic chemical utilized to reduce the freezing point of water — as they use it in anti-freeze agents.

After further investigations, investors subsequently discovered that the producer of the German wine in question was illegally blending its wines with several varieties of Austrian wines. Although no causalities were reported that were attributed to such flagrant violation of wine laws and the affected wines were immediately withdrawn from the market, the corresponding news and the subsequent media scare “did a number” on countless wine consumers worldwide.

Since this scandal, many concerns have been raised about the use of additives (or chemicals) imparted to wine during the production process. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes and keeps tabs on the allowed chemicals that winemakers can add to their wines without apprehension. While wine is the only beverage with no ingredient label, it can contain 76 different FDA-approved chemicals known as additives. It implies that wine producers can add these chemicals to their wine without disclosing the contents of bottles. 

How many chemicals are added to wine?

Regardless of the type (or brand) of wine you fancy, it most likely contains up to 98% water and ethanol combined, while the remaining 2% of the beverage contains various FDA-allowed additives. These chemicals impact the quality of wine, and they play a key role in giving wines their distinct colour, flavour, individuality and, of course, aroma. These additives include tannins, aroma compounds, sugars, volatile flavours, acids, and pigment compounds. 

 Contrary to popular misconceptions, they do not intend for these additives to inflict any harm on wine consumers. In addition, they do not degrade or adulterate the product. Their job is to stabilize the wine and boost its shelf life. Interestingly, additives are not something very new around the block. In fact, additives have always been an essential part of the winemaking industry since the earliest days of winemaking — so it is safe to assume that they are as old as the history of wine. 

Another interesting fact about the additives (or chemicals) allowed to be added to wine is that they “latch” onto impurities that might have found their way into the wine during the production process. It can eliminate them at the end of wine production.[1]

Before we highlight various types of additives, it is worth mentioning that wine additives are generally classified into two distinct groups — corrective and common. As the names imply, the common additives are utilized to ease the winemaking process, whereas the “corrective additives” are added to fix errors during wine production.

Common Wine Additives

Additional products add in wine industry are very strict, especially in France, Italy, and the USA, organic wines and biodynamic wines. And most of them do not allow using them at all in organic and biodynamic farming. 

As we mentioned earlier, the role of common wine additives is to make the production process go smoothly. We usually add them at the beginning or end of the winemaking process (e.g., fermentation) — it can also impart them in the middle of the process. 

Top on the list of common additives are antioxidants and antiseptics. Some examples of common additives are sulfites, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), potassium bisulfate), fermentation nutrients, organoleptic additives (oak barrels and chips), fining and clarification additives, and stabilization additives.

Some examples of corrective additives include polyphenol, copper sulfate, and sweeteners or enrichers. Having mentioned their names here, let us touch on each of these wine chemicals/additives.

Common Wine Additives

The most popular antioxidant (and wine antiseptic) is sulfite, which is used by the winemaking industry to prevent wine from developing into vinegar. Besides preventing wine aroma from deteriorating and oxidizing, sulfites (sulfur dioxide) also hinder the growth of bid bacteria and unwanted yeasts.

Sulfites can also be utilized to sanitize equipment and at different points of winemaking, such as harvesting (where sulfite is sprayed on grapes before they are brought into the winery), fermentation (winemakers use them to stop fermentation whenever they want), and bottling — to enhance the shelf life of wines.

Fermentation nutrients help yeasts during fermentation. Some typical examples of fermentation nutrients are yeasts — for enhancing wine flavors and texture, and Thiamine — to keep the yeast alive and get through the fermentation process. Primarily, Thiamine is added to wine with over 14% alcohol concentration.

Organoleptic additives come in handy for altering or impacting wine flavor and taste profile. Similarly, various fining and clarification additives like tannins help wine age well — improving the body, texture, and flavour.

Corrective Additives

These additives are used to correct or fix mistakes during the winemaking process, like reducing astringency and stabilizing wine color, restoring taste, and correcting foul odor caused by hydrogen sulfide. In addition, they add sweetness and enhance acidity to create stable wine.[2]

A rundown of chemicals that are legal to be added to wines are sulfur, yeast, acids (acidifiers, such as Malic, Tartaric, and Citric acids) and de-acidifiers, such as calcium carbonate, protease ( trypsin and pepsin), and stabilizers — Acetaldehyde and Dimethyl dicarbonate (DMDC), which have the thumbs up for the U.S., Australia, and the EU.

More read:

The composition of wine

Winemaking and Climate Change

On this Day in History

December 27, 1822 — During the mid-1800s, chemist Louis Pasteur started exploring the fermentation process based on Schwann’s experiment, and he was able to prove that living organisms play a role in the fermentation process. His findings in 1857 shaped the knowledge of both fermentation and pasteurization and their applications in winemaking. He was born on December 27 1822, in Dole, France.

June 30, 1906 — On this day, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created. It is an administrative body saddled with the responsibility of protecting and ensuring public safety (including, food supply and drugs) in the United States. 

References

  1. “The Ultimate Guide to Wine Making Additives & Chemicals”. 2022. Advanced Mixology. https://advancedmixology.com/blogs/art-of-mixology/wine-making-additives-guide.
  2. “Common Wine Additives And Why They Matter | Saucey Blog”. 2022. Saucey. https://blog.saucey.com/wine-additives/.
  3. Picture link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/Fermentation_barrels_in_Dambach-la-Ville.jpg

 

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